Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Ten Best Cars for 2009

What are the top ten cars of 2009? Every year, Car and Driver magazine announces its list of great drives, and even though the car industry is in a turmoil right now because of the economy, when selecting the world's most wanted automobiles, some things manage to stay the same.

Such as the BMW 3 Series, Honda Accord and Chevrolet Corvette being on the list again -- at least 15 times for each one in the 27 years the magazine has been issuing its 10Best list. Here they are, in alphabetical order --

  • BMW 3-Series/M3
  • Cadillac CTS (red car, top right)
  • Chevrolet Corvette
  • Honda Accord
  • Honda Fit
  • Infiniti G37
  • Jaguar XF (white car, top left)
  • Mazda MX-5
  • Porsche Boxster/Cayman
  • Volkswagen GTI

Despite the current headlines about potential bankruptcy, General Motors is the only American manufacturer to make the 10Best rankings, with two vehicles on the list -- the Cadillac CTS luxury sports sedan and the iconic Chevrolet Corvette, which continues its reign in the sports car category, selected for a 15th time.

First timers include the Infiniti G37 performance sports sedan, which underwent extensive changes to enhance its performance and handling, and the Jaguar XF, hailed by many for its modern styling and beautiful lines that distinguish it in its category. The Honda Fit that made the list this year is a redesigned version of the car that had been selected to the list twice before.

Other great drives which seem to have reserved parking on this list include the Honda Accord, recognized for a record 23rd time, and the BMW 3-Series, making its appearance on the Car and Driver list for a record 18 consecutive years. The Porsche Boxster roadster and its sibling Cayman coupe, and the Mazda MX-5 are on the 10Best list for the tenth year each. Rounding out the winners is the Volkswagen GTI, honored for the fourth time.

A winners are chosen by a panel of 19 Car and Driver editors who rate the cars on performance, driving satisfaction and value. The vehicles must be available in the United States and must cost less than $71,000. The list -- and more information about each model -- appears in the January 2009 issue, on newsstands in December.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Tips for Safe Driving During the Holiday Season

We're all in a hurry at the holidays. But speeding is not the answer, and it most certainly is not safe driving. Speeding-related deaths kill approximately 13,500 Americans each year, according to the Governor's Highway Safety Association. And thousands more drivers, passengers and pedestrians are injured by speeding.
Here are five reasons you should not speed…

Save lives - Slowing down increases the likelihood you and your passengers will survive a crash. Each 1 percent decrease in travel speed reduces injury crashes by about 2%, serious injury crashes by about 3% and fatal crashes by about 4%.

Save money - Speeding reduces fuel efficiency, causing you to buy gas more often. The Department of Energy estimates that, as a rule of thumb, you can assume that each 5 mph above 60 mph you drive is like paying an additional $0.20 per gallon for gas.

Save the environment - According to Ford Motor Company, driving a vehicle at 65 mph consumes about 15% more fuel than driving the same vehicle at 55 mph. More fuel consumed means more CO2 released into the atmosphere.

Save yourself a ticket - Highway safety agencies and law enforcement crack down on speeders, especially during holidays. Obey the sign or pay the fine!

Save your license - A speeding ticket could lead to points on your driving record. Too many points and you could lose your license and your insurance premiums could go up.

Safe drives are great drives.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Ford Introduces 2010 Fusion Hybrid

We haven't even turned the calendar pages to 2009 yet, and already the auto manufacturers are introducing 2010 models. Like the new Ford Fusion Hybrid, being introduced at the Los Angeles Auto Show in mid-November, where eco-friendly green drives are the big news.

There also is an all-new 'regular' gas-powered Ford Fusion and its sibling Mercury Milan. Both offer Ford's all-new Duratec 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that is expected to deliver at least 3 mpg better on the highway than the Honda Accord and 2 mpg better than the Toyota Camry.

Back to the hybrid. This is Ford's own technology, not Toyota's, which Nissan licensed for its well-received Altima Hybrid. Ford claims its next-generation hybrid system will deliver class-leading fuel economy, besting the Toyota Camry hybrid by at least 5 mpg in city driving.

With the addition of the Fusion and Milan hybrids, Ford doubles its hybrid fleet, adding to the Escape and Mariner hybrids. And with four hybrid models, Ford becomes the largest domestic producer of full hybrid vehicles in North America. The insanely popular Toyota Prius other Toyota and Honda hybrids are not from Detroit. But, you could say neither are the hybrid Fusions or Mariners -- they are built in Mexico.

The new Ford hybrids vehicles can accelerate up to 47 mph in pure electric mode, about twice as fast as some competitors. That can extend your driving range on a single tank of gas to more than 700 miles. That's pretty substantial mileage between fill-ups.

Back to the gas-powered models now. The Duratec four-cylinder engines are 175 horsepower, and there an optional 3.0-liter V-6 and a hefty 3.5 liter V-6 for the Fusion Sport model that pumps out 263 horsepower. Models with the smallest engine are expected to deliver at least 3 mpg better on the highway than the Honda Accord and 2 mpg better than the Toyota Camry.
All of the gas engine choices have six-speed transmissions, for up to a 10 percent fuel economy improvement.

With the new arrivals, Ford will be the producer of the most fuel-efficient mid-size sedans and SUVs in America -- and the Fusion Hybrid is expected to perform at least 5 mpg better on the highway than the Toyota Camry hybrid.

This is all good news for those thinking about buying a new car. And Ford needs all the good news it can get. That goes for all the auto manufacturers, too.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

All-Electric Motorcycle Runs on Zero Gas

The Zero Electric Motorcycle is a high performance, zero-compromise dirt bike that drives great on a specially-designed lithium-ion power pack and a handmade, aircraft-grade aluminum frame. It adds up to explosive acceleration and plenty of power off road.

The newest model is the 2009 Zero X, with an upgraded drivetrain, frame, suspension, brakes and wheels. So, it's even faster and stronger to race up hills, fly over jumps, and splash through streams, without the noise or pollution of conventional gas-powered dirt bikes.

The Zero X electric motorcycle is a high performance, zero-compromise electric dirt bike that utilizes a proprietary lithium-ion power pack, and a handmade aircraft grade aluminum frame to deliver surprising power and explosive acceleration. Since the 2008 model was sold-out, the arrival of the 2009 is just in time for fans of the Zero, who include James Denton, star of ABC's Desperate Housewives. He plays the hunky Mike the Plumber.

The new Zero X boasts a 23 horsepower electric motor, a total weight of 151 pounds, and 50 ft.-lbs of torque, double what the competition offers. So it's light enough and fast enough to keep pace with conventional gas off-road motorcycles without disturbing nature or neighbors.

The 3rd generation Zero X incorporates changes suggested both by pro riders and current customers. "It's another evolutionary leap forward", says Neal Saiki, inventor and founder of Zero Motorcycles.

The 2009 Zero X is priced at $7750, with an introductory price of $7450 through December 31, 2008. Orders received by the end of November will ship by year end -- perhaps even in enough time to put a red ribbon on it for Christmas. Right now, the only way to purchase the Zero is through the company website.

An environmentally friendly, green motorcycle. What will they think of next!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Clean-Diesel VW to Race in Baja 1000

Volkswagen is entering an all-new, purpose-built clean-diesel Touareg TDI in the 41st running of the Tecate Score Baja 1000. The driving team is motorsports veterans Mark Miller and Ryan Arciero

Miller has been a dominant force in off-road racing for two decades, including several wins in the Trophy Truck category of both the Baja 1000 and the Baja 500. Arciero won the grueling 1000, a 600 mile-plus race, in 2004. Currently, he is a VW factory driver and was instrumental in the inaugural season of the Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup Series, where he coached and mentored a group of thirty up and coming talented young drivers on what it takes to succeed in the world of professional motorsports.

A few years ago, I helped out in a so-called 'chase' car, which provides support for drivers, in the Baja 500, and let me tell you, this is no Sunday drive to grandma's house. We drove over blistering hot dry lake beds, bumped across severely rutted unpaved tracks, and hairpin turns on paved mountainous roads. And I was in a production-model vehicle, with comfortable seats and shock absorbers -- not like the specially adapted racing models these guys are driving.

The VW Touareg TDI is riding on BFGoodrich Tires. Other sponsors include Red Bull, , Dow Automotive, Oakley eyewear, KMC Wheels and Fox Shocks.

VW and BFGoodrich also are sponsoring a first-of-its-kind website to track the race with real-time information, inclusing by text updates to your mobile phone, and streaming video.

The 2008SCOREBaja1000 web site goes live on Nov. 19, 2008 with a countdown clock. Race tracking will begin at 6 a.m. PT/ 9 a.m. ET on Nov. 21.
Racers, start your engines. Viewers, keep your eyes protected from the dust.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Race Cars of the Future -- What Will They Look Like?

Today’s race cars have ground-breaking technology to improve speed, power, performance and safety. Many features we rely on today -- ABS, traction control, even lightweight aluminim engines -- were developed and tested on the racetrack and then trickling down to the automobiles we mere mortals drive. So, it's a good idea to peek into the future and see what designers and engineers are planning now, for the future.

Nine of Southern California’s automotive design studios have been busy predicting how auto racing will change by the year 2025. Their designs are part of the fifth annual Los Angeles Auto Show’s Design Challenge. Here's what the designers and engineers have come up with -- in alphabetical order --

Audi -- (photo right) The Audi R25 incorporates innovative features such as high-velocity banks and tunnels, which allow cars to race “inverted” and the opportunity to pass anywhere with aerodynamic racecars.

BMW -- The BMW Hydrogen Powered Salt Flat Racer reuses existing, ordinary materials such as old oil barrels and BBQ lids, and 'employs' goldfish as “co-pilots” to ensure that the vehicle is running clean emissions. This is a sustainable vehicle -- how it's built, and the fuel that propels it.

General Motors -- The GM Chaparral Volt collects and generates its own energy from three different clean, renewable and abundant California resources: Earth, Wind and Fire. The futuristic Volt creates what GM is describing as entirely new category of racing - the eco-triathlon.

Honda -- The Great Race 2025’s sonar/echolocation sensors can detect changes in speed, terrain, and altitude. That allows the vehicle to switch to any configuration to circumnavigate the globe in 24 hours on land, by sea or by air. Another triathlon -- it drives, it sails, it flies.

Mazda -- The MAZDA KAAN is an electric race car with a patented electronic tire system to reach 250 mph with no harmful emissions.

Mitsubishi -- The MMR25 is a multi-terrain vehicle with omni-directional wheels with eight independently-controlled motors. This allows for what Mitsu is calling “8 x 4” wheel drive, and it means you can drive the car forwards even while it's pointed backwards or sideways. Now, if they could design something that can get me sideways while pointed forwards, I could get in and out of a tight NYC parking space a lot easier.

Mercedes-Benz -- (photo middle) The Formula Zero Racer incorporates Formula One speed with the track dynamics of the bobsled or luge, and the grace and efficiency of yacht racing. So there.

Toyota -- The Le Mans Racer is the ultimate race car that never needs to stop. It is powered by highly efficient hydrogen fuel cell electric motors, and each of its body panels is embedded with photovoltaic panels that supply electricity when extra energy is needed. The world's first hydrogen-solar vehicle! It doesn't get more green. Even the Prius needs gas occasionally. This could solve the world's energy crisis.

Volkswagen -- (photo left) In the Bio Runner, the driver is positioned inside a protective cage on a motorcycle-like saddle, with controls attached to the hands and feet. The controls manipulate all wheels via synthetic muscle-based suspension which offers unparalleled control and traction. Sounds like fun to drive.

And which of these futuristic designs is the best? The competition winner is being announced at the LA Auto Show on Nov. 20, 2008. I'll be there.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Best Cars and Features for Older Drivers

The fastest growing segment on the road today is not hybrids or flex-fuel vehicles, crossovers or performance sport sedans. It is drivers 65 and older. According to the according to the American Automobile Association, there are 29 million older drivers on the road today.

We all age differently, so it is important to recognize how your body is changing, not just at the gym or on the tennis court or ski slope, but behind how you drive:

Age 40 -- multi-tasking becomes more challenging, such as concentrating at the same time on the navigation system and the traffic in front of you. Also, recovery from glare is reduced, which affects your comfort level driving at night.

Age 60 -- muscle strength and range of motion decrease by as much as 25 percent. That affects your ability to get in and out of the vehicle, and how easily and far you can turn around in the driver seat to check conditions in the blind spot.

Age 70 - arthritic joints can make it difficult to grasp the steering wheel, and diabetes, stroke or Parkinson’s disease can affect perception.

And, any time, conditions such as hip or knee surgery, further affect mobility. But it’s not all bad news. AAA and the University of Florida’s Older Driver Research and Training Center have identified vehicle features that address these conditions, to help us drive safely and comfortably in the so-called mature years. Although the report is called “Smart Features for Mature Drivers”, many of these features work for anybody considering buying a new car soon, whether that's a 2009 model, or a certified pre-owned used car.

Here are some features that work for all of us --
  • four-door vehicles, since doors are lighter and easier to open than two-door coupes.

  • performance sports models usually have seats with more heavily padded side and thigh bolsters, which are more difficult to get into and out of than vehicles with flatter seats,

  • heated seats with lumbar support are great for anybody at any age with back pain,

  • for drivers with reduced leg strength or mobility, a higher SUV can be easier to get in and out of than a sedan, since its higher seat reduces bending. Or, you might do better with a vehicle with a lower door, such as a minivan,

  • keyless entry and keyless ignition are more than convenient – they prevent the difficulty or pain caused by having to turn a key. Also, a thick steering wheel requires less hand and wrist strength to grip and handle to make turns. And this turns out to be a smart feature also for younger drivers who make long, daily commutes.

  • power mirrors and seats are easier to adjust for drivers with limited strength or arthritis,

  • power trunk or tailgate closers are as helpful to mature drivers with limited arm strength as they are to younger drivers juggling squirming toddlers.

  • dashboard design is important, too. Large, clear, easy-to-read numbers on the speedometer and odometer are important, especially to drivers wearing bifocals. Larger audio and climate controls with buttons are easier to manipulate than knobs, especially for drivers with vision affected by glaucoma or cataracts, or whose “fine motor skills” are diminishing.

  • a navigation system that is relatively uncomplicated also reduces distraction.

  • large, wide angle side mirrors and rear-view mirrors help compensate for limited range of motion or difficulties twisting to check for blind spots while merging or backing up.

  • a rear camera to aid with backing up is a helpful option to consider, as are radar-based systems that assist with parking and maintaining distance from the vehicle in front on the highway – what’s known as collision avoidance systems.

Vehicles with Smart Features for Mature Drivers come in all price ranges. More about those down the road in a future posting.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Beautiful Cars Make Great Art

It's not too early to start thinking about a gift for the favorite car enthusiast in your life -- even if that's yourself. Great cars are beautiful -- especially classic drives from the past. All bold, sculptured flashing chrome and graceful curves of metal -- subjects for fine art photography.

The online art marketplace DiscoveredArtists.com is offering a selection of automotive and motorcycle prints and originals, starting at under $100. Like the image shown here, called, simply, Blue Car. Well, to me it looks turquoise, which was a color popular in the 50s for Chevys and Fords, like the classic '55 Chevy Bel Aire this just might be a close-up of.

Automotive art typically falls into a few categories --
  • So-called beauty shots that usually are very close-up, focusing on a single feature such as a beautiful hood ornament or such into a striking tight,
  • Detailed fine art photographs that show every nuance of the car's design,
  • Nostalgia artworks that set a mood or capture a feeling, such as the freedom of the open road before nagivation systems that speak,

Some of these art pieces are photos, either straightforward and some digitally enhanced. Others are paintings. All are interesting.

Take a look.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Drive a Nissan GT-R on Your Sony PlayStation 3

Nissan's all-new super-hot GT-R super sportscar is already pretty much sold out for the 2009 model year. But you can get behind the wheel of this great drive -- on a Sony PlayStation 3.

Nissan has made an unusual marketing move, allowing the interiors of the eagerly awaited sportscar to be copied for an early version of the Gran Turismo 5 racing classic game. It's also a marketing move by Sony, which racing down the straightaway against Microsoft Xbox.

According to the advertising and marketing newsletter CMDglobal.com, news about the new game revved up up with a mix of word-of-mouth, emails to the GT and Nissan databases, updates on the Gran Turismo website, Facebook pages and online ads. Registrants raced virtual laps of a specific racetrack, in a specific car, on on their PlayStation consoles.
Here's where the game gets real --

The two fastest drivers -- er, players -- will represent Team Nissan in the 24-hour endurance race in Dubai in January 2009, after an eight-month training program.

So, you must be asking -- what about the car? The real car? Glad you asked.

The GT-R is a head-turner, with a 480-horsepower, twin-turbo 3.8-liter V6 engine and an advanced 6-speed dual clutch automatic transmission. MSRP is $69,850. I much prefer the real car to the game car.

Actually, this is the latest supercar to be launched on the small screen. Last year, the equally fabulous Audi R8 made its debut in the hit movie "Iron Man".